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By Joey Williams–2008 Presidential Election

The presidential election of 2008 was a historic election for the United States. While then-senator Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected as president of the United States, Joe Biden represented the first Roman Catholic to hold the office of Vice President. To get there, Obama first defeated Hillary Clinton in one of the most tightly contested primary elections in history. Although Clinton was long considered the frontrunner for the race, Obama won Iowa and gained momentum from there. After losing Iowa, the Clinton team was unprepared to recover and Obama continued to upset her in key elections. In June, after Obama secured the nomination to end a close race, Clinton delayed conceding the race by multiple days even though it was clear she knew it was over. When she finally conceded on June 7, 2008, she pledged her full support toward Obama, and would later accept a position as his Secretary of State. Although she lost the election, Clinton made history as the first woman in U.S. history to win a major political party primary election by winning the New Hampshire primary.

Upon winning the primary, Obama matched up against Senator John McCain in the general election. To match the historical ticket of Obama and Biden, McCain nominated Sarah Palin as his candidate for Vice President. Palin, the first woman ever on a Republican presidential ballot, had political experience as the Governor of Alaska from 2006-2009. Palin quickly grew a reputation of being dim-witted and unfit for office. Additionally, due to McCain’s age, many people complained about the possibility of Palin replacing him in office. Largely due to the historical implications of the election, voter turnout increased from previous elections. The demographic splits reflected the 25-year age difference between the two candidates, with Obama getting a significant majority of young voters and McCain getting the elderly vote. In a decisive victory, Obama received 365 electoral votes compared to McCain’s 173.

In the years leading up to the election, the United States waged a divisive war in Iraq. So, of course, during the 2008 election cycle, the war was one of the top issues that the candidates debated. John McCain supported the war from the beginning and continued to assert it was an important war. Obama, on the other hand, rejected the war from the beginning and maintained that there should be a timetable for the removal of all troops. This was a fair representation of the rhetorical strategies of the two candidates. John McCain’s campaign had a central theme of “fight” and “experience.” As he said in one of his TV ads, “one man does what’s best for America, not what’s easy.” Additionally, in response to the high likeability that Barack Obama had, McCain stated, “I didn’t go to Washington to win Mr. Congeniality, I went there to serve my country.” McCain’s main slogan was “country first.” Obama, on the other hand, took a more radical approach, using “Change” and “Yes We Can” as his main slogans.

Due to the economic recession of 2008, Obama’s “change” slogan was a very important part of his campaign. Many people were in difficult living situations due to the high unemployment levels, and a man who preaches drastic change was exactly the right person to garner national support. Additionally, Obama became known for his unwavering positivity about our country’s future. At a time when things seemed bleak for so many, maintaining a positive image of America allowed Obama to win over many undecided voters. Because of Obama maintained such a positive and likeable public persona, McCain took to regularly questioning his record VS. rhetoric. “He’s not willing to drill for energy, but he’s sure willing to drill for votes,” Sarah Palin exclaimed to a group of supporters in Pennsylvania. In the same speech, she referred to Obama as “a guy who’s just tried to talk his way into the White House.”

In addition to the economic and national security issues of the time, race played a large role in the election of 2008. Although Obama was the first African American nominated by a major U.S. party, he restrained from playing the race card throughout the election. This was mainly met with respect by the American people. Of course, to many racists in the country, an African American being an election away from holding the highest office in the country was very threatening. At many McCain rallies, racist chants were hurled toward the stage in support of the white candidate. While this was going on, McCain initially took the respectable approach of condemning racist supporters. In one incident, one woman told McCain at a rally that she was afraid of Obama because he is “an Arab.” Senator McCain, taking the high road, repeatedly shook his head and replied “no ma’am. He’s a decent, family man citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about.” While he took this approach early, McCain fell off a little bit as he fell behind in the race. As Obama pulled ahead, McCain backed off from silencing his racist supporters.

Ultimately, Barack Obama entered the 2008 election prepared for the racial attacks he would get. Like Hillary Clinton’s gender in 2016, Obama knew that his race would play a role in how he was perceived. Instead of crumbling under the unfair expectation, Obama confidently and calmly carried himself to victory. While John McCain did not make any major mistakes, America wanted change and Barack Obama seemed to live and breathe it.

References:

By Lauren Harris–‘Maverick, No More’: McCain’s Struggle to Rise above Bush’s Unpopular Legacy

The 2008 presidential election was an especially difficult time for the Republican Party. The party’s candidate, Arizona Senator John McCain, not only had to contend with his Democratic opponent but also with the public’s general disillusion with the George W. Bush presidency. The political cartoon, “Maverick No More,” epitomizes McCain’s struggle during the 2008 election. The cartoon was created by Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Ben Sargent, who retired in 2009.

Harris McCain CartoonGeorge W. Bush was known somewhat as a southern cowboy, who lived on a large ranch in Texas when not at the White House. In the cartoon, Bush is seen branding a large “W” into a steer that has the face of McCain. In the corner of the cartoon is the title, “Maverick No More,” which refers to McCain’s nickname as “The Maverick.” This branding is symbolic for the significant impact the Bush administration had on the McCain campaign in 2008 and the difficulty McCain had with differentiating himself from the unpopular president.

Despite having the highest approval rating of any president after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bush left office in January 2009 with one of the lowest approval ratings in history (22%). After it came to light that the government presented evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (which ultimately led to the United States’ involvement in Iraq) as more concrete than it actually was, both conflicts in the Middle East, as well as the president, became increasingly unpopular with the American public. Also, the U.S. economy took a major hit leading up to the 2008 presidential election, which also contributed to Bush’s abysmal approval ratings. After two unpopular wars and a tanking economy, the American people were dissatisfied with the president and the Republican Party he represented.

McCain desperately needed to separate himself from the unpopular Bush administration. However, while McCain urged that he disapproved of Bush’s management of the Iraq war, news organizations reported that McCain and Bush remained very similar in their views about the economy and the continuation of the Iraq war. These issues were two of the most important in the 2008 election and McCain struggled to separate himself from Bush while still remaining loyal to his conservative ideals.

While McCain attempted to demonstrate to the American people that he was different from fellow Republican Bush, Obama incorporated this dissatisfaction into his campaign slogan.

Harris McCain BumperDespite McCain’s attempts to differentiate himself from Bush, Americans continued to see the Republicans as too similar for their liking. In June 2008, respondents to a USA Today/Gallup poll confirmed that McCain was in trouble: 49 percent of respondents claimed they were very concerned that McCain would pursue policies similar to the one’s Bush pursued and another 19 percent were somewhat concerned. Obama referred to these concerns often in his campaign discourse. McCain was dubbed “McBush,” past policies were referred to as “Bush-McCain policies” and Obama’s campaign often stated that a vote for McCain was a vote for a third Bush term. These statements reinforced the public’s fears that McCain and the very unpopular Bush were much more alike than the McCain team wanted to admit.

McCain countered these attacks by focusing on Obama’s lack of political experience, claiming that “the American people didn’t get to know me yesterday, as they are just getting to know Senator Obama.” However, America’s dissatisfaction with the Republican Party ran too deep. In November 2008, Americans voted for the candidate who ran on “change” rather than the Republican candidate that reminded them all too well of the preceding president.

Sources

CBSNews, “Bush’s Final Approval Rating: 22 Percent,” CBS, January 16, 2009, accessed May 15, 2014, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/bushs-final-approval-rating-22-percent/
James Gerber, “McCain: I’m Not Bush III,” ABC, June 3, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2008/06/mccain-im-not-b/
Jeffrey F. Jones, “Americans Worry McCain Would Be Too Similar to Bush,” USA Today/Gallup, July 1, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014, http://www.gallup.com/poll/108490/Americans-Worry-McCain-Would-Too-Similar-Bush.aspx
Barack Obama, “Remarks in Charleston, West Virginia: ‘The Cost of War,’” The White House, March 20, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=76994
Michael Cooper, “McCain Distances Himself from Bush and Jabs Obama,” New York Times, June 4, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/04/us/politics/04mccain.html?pagewanted=print

Photos

Freckles Cassie, “George W. Bush,” Political Teen Tidbits, March 09, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014, http://frecklescassie.wordpress.com/category/george-w-bush/
Oliver, “Troop Elections—From Oliver’s Blog,” Troop 90, September 30, 2008, accessed May 10, 2014, http://t90pacificgrove.blogspot.com/

Categories: 2008 Campaign

By Winnie Okafor–Misogyny in the 2008 Presidential Campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton

In 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton ran for president of the United States of America amidst high levels of political discrimination against her, personally, and against women in politics in general. Her campaign events were constantly raided by observers with differing beliefs about the role of women in society. Some of these observers, judging from the signs held up in protest, believed that a woman did not belong at the podium campaigning for President of the United States, that woman’s place is in the domestic sphere tending to the matters at home. A now-famous sign which read “Iron my shirt,” was held up by a heckler at one of Clinton’s final stops during the New Hampshire primaries [1]. Clearly this sign of protest, one of the few public displays throughout the campaign, was a sign of distaste for Clinton– her person and her politics. Clinton’s response to the New Hampshire heckler was strident as she dismissively noted, “Ah, the signs of sexism still alive and well” [2].

In addition to homemade signs from hecklers, blogs, vlogs and independent websites hosted various offensive signs and posters such as “Bros before hoes,” “Hillary Clinton the Communist Bitch of D.C.,” and pictures of her as a witch flying over the U.S. Capitol on a broom stick. Sexist remarks like these, while uncommon in the popular media, illustrated the shreds of sexism still at work in U.S. presidential politics. Household items like nutcrackers were fashioned after Clinton and sold independently on websites like EBay and Amazon.

Despite humiliating portrayals of Clinton in the media and blogosphere, she was the most successful woman to run for president. Her campaign for president was one of the most formidable campaigns ever run by a woman and she came very close to winning. In her concession speech on June 7th 2008, she remarked that “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it…” [3] While that speech was one of the hardest pieces of public discourse for Hillary supporters to listen to, it was also a speech that signaled unity in the Democratic Party around the nominee Senator Barack Obama. Nonetheless, Clinton did not shy away from addressing the girls and women for whom she worked tirelessly on the campaign, the people for whom she paved a path to the Oval Office.

Okafor HRC

It seems obvious, and perhaps it goes without saying, that the misogynistic images which percolated during Clinton’s campaign contributed to the loss of her credibility with the voting public. In each of the medium(ia) identified above, Clinton was portrayed as the less than ideal candidate whose femininity was different from the norm and therefore frightening, whose experience was controversial and therefore trivialized, and whose sexuality was tamped-down and therefore undesirable. In her book, Men and Women of the Corporation, Rosabeth Kanter identified “four common stereotypes of professional women: seductress or sex object, mother, pet, and iron maiden” [4]. These stereotypes carried with them the stigma of unsuitability for the highest office of the land and the media sought to portray Clinton as each, in turn.

When Robin Givhan, The Washington Post‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion editor, commented on Clinton’s cleavage during a speech on the Senate floor, she opened the door to a whole new level of cultural conversation about women’s bodies and the suitability of that body to be leader of the free world. Givhan noted that, “The cleavage registered after only a quick glance. No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn’t an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable” [6]. Since Clinton was known for her dark-colored pantsuits, the pink feminine suit she wore to the floor of the senate stirred the imagination and provided fodder for cultural and political commentary. The style of Givhan’s writing was set in an accusatory tone, as if to accuse Clinton of being a woman and thus disqualify her from consideration to be President of the United States.

Was Givhan simply doing her job as fashion critic or was she analyzing Clinton’s couture in accordance with an acceptable mode of dress in order to disqualify her? Comments like Givhan’s were peppered throughout the campaign and were delivered in sometimes more brutal ways. While Clinton was not directly referred to as a sex-object, the sale of the nutcracker which opened its legs wide to crack an assortment of nuts touched on the subject of her sexuality. Through the marketing of this product, Clinton’s toughness and political skill was called into question. As the most experienced of the candidates in the Democratic Party primary, her ability to maneuver the politics of Congress was seen as threatening. Clinton’s political savvy earned her the favorite status even before the election began. So, what better way to highlight the anxiety which her masculine opponents felt than to iconize her as a “nutcracker?” In her piece on “Misogyny I Won’t Miss,” Marie Cocco noted, “I will not miss walking past airport concessions selling the Hillary Nutcracker, a device in which a pantsuit-clad Clinton doll opens her legs to reveal stainless-steel thighs that, well, bust nuts. I won’t miss television and newspaper stories that make light of the novelty item” [6].

In conclusion, while the directive to Clinton to “Iron my shirt” was the height of brutal assaults against her femininity, it pales in comparison to the other misogynistic innuendos about her sexuality. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign for president of the United States reified many of the negative stereotypes leveled against women who have sought political leadership. Looking forward to the 2016 presidential election, the Ready for Hillary PAC, has been garnering support for another potential run for the presidency. It is my hope that this second go-around will yield a cultural/political climate where Clinton can be viewed as a dynamic, multi-dimensional candidate.

[1] Graham, Nicholas. “Sexist Hecklers Interrupt Hillary: “Iron My Shirt!”” The Huffington Post. 07 January 2008.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Clinton, Hillary. “Hillary Clinton Endorses Barack Obama.” The New York Times. 07 June 2008.
[4] Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. Men and Women of the Corporation. New York: Basic, 1977.
[5] Givhan, Robin. “Hillary Clinton’s Tentative Dip Into New Neckline Territory.” Washington Post. 20 July 2007.
[6] Cocco, Marie. “Misogyny I Won’t Miss.” Washington Post. 15 May 2008.

Categories: 2008 Campaign

By Will Howell–Comedy and Campaigning, 1931 & 2008

On May 7, 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain made his thirteenth appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. McCain had previously run for president (in 2000), but his appearances were unrelated to his previous candidacy: rather, McCain’s affinity for The Daily Show (and vice versa) grew from McCain’s advocacy for campaign finance reform. As a strong supporter of campaign finance reform, Jon Stewart was more than willing to provide Senator McCain a venue to inform the public about his work.

McCain’s many appearances–and particularly this appearance amidst the escalating presidential election—call to mind a historical parallel from October, 1931. President Herbert Hoover, up for reelection one year later, presided over a deepening economic depression. The conservative president turned to the private sector to revive the economy (and, consequently, his chances for reelection) by creating POUR: the President’s Organization on Unemployment Relief.

Perhaps Hoover didn’t recognize the tragic irony of calling this organization POUR, but he knew how to boost its success. He asked popular comedian Will Rogers to appear on the radio with him to promote the program.

Roger’s brief remarks—dubbed “Bacon and Beans and Limousines”—are found below. John McCain’s interview on The Daily Show is available here.

I don’t want to belabor the content of either broadcast, but rather to raise some points of comparison.

In both situations, the comedians (to use Peter M. Robinson’s excellent phrasing) “dominated the middle ground between the people and the president” (or presidential candidate, in the case of McCain). In his book, Robinson traces how this domination solidified over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but it’s always been there. From Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley columns to Will Roger’s Letters of a Self-Made Diplomat to His President, from Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford impression to Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin, comedians have helped us evaluate our presidents—and given us standards by which we might judge presidential candidates.

In 1931, the politician asked the comedian to help him advocate for a policy; in 2008, the comedian invited the politician. While acknowledging the constant “mediator” role comedians play, it’s also important to acknowledge that the tables have turned somewhat. Fey’s impression has been cited by several scholars and many cultural critics as a contributing factor to Sarah Palin’s public unraveling, and appearing on The Daily Show was a rite of passage for nearly all of the Republican and Democratic candidates who sought to succeed George W. Bush in the 2008 presidential campaign. Right or wrong, American citizens seem to have ceded a great deal of vetting power to comedians.

In 1931, all radio stations carried the politician and comedian’s address; in 2008, the comedian and the politician addressed only a segment of the population who paid to see them. There are three points I wish to make here. First, changing technologies now allow us to see the comedian sitting next to the president. I’d argue that this is a stronger validation of the comedian’s political contribution than hearing his/her voice in tandem with the president/presidential candidate. That being said, it doesn’t carry as much weight if fewer people see it. Perhaps McCain said something insightful, or important for citizens to know as they evaluated his candidacy, when he appeared on The Daily Show…but unless citizens seek it out, its civic contribution is diminished. I am one of those who ’don’t have cable, meaning I’d need to go online to watch the interview; I’d need to make an affirmative decision, and then take steps, to watch it. This leads to a final point: comedians increasingly play to specific audiences. Will Rogers played to everybody, as did Bob Hope, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, and the other radio comedy greats. This obviously relates to the broadcast technology they used, but the outcome is what’s important. They did political material alongside jokes about their pets, and their stupid neighbors. Because cable enables narrowcast audiences, comedians in that medium can rule out certain types of material. Coupled with broadcast networks’ concerns about political comedy emerging from the Vietnam War era, this has contributed to a walling-off of political comedy.

Some food for thought while you listen/watch and compare these two broadcasts. There are obviously other points of comparison, and I invite you to both engage my points and note what comparisons you see in your comments.